Monday, March 31, 2008

Reading - Do You?

Our theme this week is a question: As a writer, do you still read? If you do, has being a writer changed how you read? Is it still a pleasure, or is it work? What do you read?

Sigh. This has been, for me, one of the unforseen drawbacks to writing for publication. I do still read. LOTS. But I can't say that I read for pleasure as often as I used to.

It isn't because there is a dearth of great writing out there. It's just that when I come across some wondrous example of literary genius - fiction or non - three things happen to me: I'm inspired to write something just as wonderful, I'm inspired to go tell everyone else how great it is, and I'm "inspired" to sit on my typing fingers because I will never be able to compose such richness of truth and beauty.

There's another thing that takes reading out of the pleasure realm and into the work world: I'm never (or rarely) unaware of the mechanics of the writing. If I do happen to get swept up in a story, there comes a moment - like in a dream when you realize you actually can't actually be walking on air - where my subconscious sits up and says: "Hey, how did she do that? Was it characterization? Plot? Pacing? Word-choice? Scene? All of the above?" And then R&R time is over. Now I must go back and see just what it was that swept me up that way. And what can I do in my writing to achieve the same effect?

On the other hand, witnessing beautiful sentence construction or superbly-detailed reporting is a joy in and of itself. So I suppose it isn't that reading is entirely without pleasure - it's just a different kind of pleasure.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Reading - do the kids' books count?

Ah, reading. I love reading. I love books, all of my books, my preshuses, my pretties, my books. But lately, the only reading that happens is the recipe cards for dinner and the books I read to my kids each night.

But still, to be a good writer, you need to be a good reader. So I try to carve out reading time for myself. And here's how:

  1. I read my bible. I should read it more, but shouldn't we all?
  2. I read in the tub. It is the longest stretch of uninterrupted time that I can find some days. It's quiet with a door on it.
  3. I switch between fiction and nonfiction. Fiction because I love it and dream of writing it some day and nonfiction because that's what I write and I want to get better at it. I want to read other writers to learn from their construction and flow.
  4. I try to read a half hour before bed. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. I usually know within a page or two if I've got enough energy to read or if I'm just falling asleep at the page.

I think it's important to read, not just as a writer, but as a mother. I want my family to read - I want it to be our culture. From books we can learn about ourselves, others, places we've never been or may never be. We can experience a little bit of life safely, we can take the bits of the world we read and keep it inside of ourselves, using it like a bit of our own life experience.

I think of my own reading life. I learned about love, hardship, forgiveness and strength between the covers of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder even as I lived in a foreign country that didn't even have a winter season.

I lived on the edge reading Sweet Valley High, preparing myself for all the difficult days ahead in my own school career.

I cried and mourned reading Watership Down and viewed the world with a little bit more of a critical eye to the kindess expressed and harsh words spoken. I learned what really mattered.

There are things I could do much better in my reading life. One thing I'd like to do is to get better at remembering the author's names and who wrote what... I often remember a plot or a scene but not the actual book or who wrote it!

And that brings me to another point... you hear all the time about plagairism and theft of ideas. Some are blatant, some are word for word... but sometimes I wonder if there are phrases in my own writing that I've heard somewhere else or that I've read somewhere else. Certainly there are... but where did they come from, who said them first?

Theme - Reading... what's that again?

Thanks to Carolyn Erickson, aka the idea gal... here's our new topic:

Reading – do you (anymore)? If you do, has being a writer changed how you read? Is it still a pleasure, or is it just work? What do you read?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

It starts with...blood up the walls? Really?

I've been writing since I was four. Mom, somewhere in her attic, I suspect, has the little book I made, bound with wool, illustrated about as well as I can illustrate now, written in about four shades of crayon.
Heather emailed us and asked how we started - and when I got the email, I was midway between my hometown and my own home - we were travelling, 6 hours in a car, so I had plenty of time to think about how I 'start'. And I took some notes, I wrote some snippets. But I couldn’t really boil down to the root of where I ‘start’ my stories.
Five hours later, I still didn't have an answer, so I thought about it some more. And some more. Till I went to bed.
At which point, Elliot, my main protagonist "woke me up". And asked me why I'm ignoring the obvious.

And that's how it all starts - one of my characters wakes me up, and I have a conversation with them. I actually bicker with them, which is the funniest bit – my partner has told me that I argue with thin air, and have some really funny conversations about ballistic reports, and ongoing murder investigations – about the science of how my anti-matter drive works, or some interesting fact about magic. About the blood splatter pattern all over our bedroom wall, and what that can tell Elliot about the crime he's investigating.
It really bothered me for a while, but I found out that there's actually a medical explanation for it.
(Pay attention, here comes the science part ;))

Hypnagogic and Hypnapompic hallucinations occur as just as you go into or come out of REM sleep. Its usually fairly uncommon, as far as I've understood so far anyway, to have both - but I do, alongside bipolar disorder. They aren't considered 'sleep disorders' per se, but I'd say that people with the level of issues that I have probably feel like they are, to be honest. But, just like my bipolar diagnosis, I try to take the best from it.
I see everything from blood, to my characters, to things climbing on my bedside table, and more. It would probably be very funny if it weren’t for the fact that it really wrecks my ability to sleep properly.

There is an upside to this – I get some really GREAT material for my stories from these conversations and five minute flashes of visions. I keep a Dictaphone by my bed, and I tape it too.

Possibly slightly off the topic of the question, but I guess everything starts for me, just before I go to sleep, in my dreams or just as I wake up. How about you?

(oh, if you're interested in learning more about Elliot, please check out my newest site, DarknessPD - there's really not much there at the moment, but I'm putting up more every day, to support the NEW BOOK! WOOOOHOOO!!!!)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In which I ramble far from the topic

It starts innocently enough with my 8th grade novel. The one in the spiral notebook with the yellow cover, that long ago fell off. The cover I was sure I kept and now cannot find. I'm not sure why I care.

The whole thing is dramatic, angst filled, almost painful to read. My girlish scrawl with little circles for the i's and hearts at the bottom of exclamation points from the beginning to the middle and right through the end.

The end, which gives me a moment's pause to marvel at my 8th grade self's ability to know the end of something, to be sure of something, to be done with something, to do something she loved.

Despite the long passages that read like the finest in daytime tv and make me snort with laughter...

Such As: "Lacie,my god not her!" Lacie Ancall, my best friend, always there, never (oh God) never complaining. I had known her since the 1st grade, practically my whole life, and I guess I didn't know her well enough. Only 16, a brutal death from her own hands. She had tried to tell us, all of us, in her own way. She talked about death, she was obsessed with it. God, we just thought she was being her normally, abnormally strange self. But she was covering up her sorrows all these years, and I didn't even hear her cries for help, I ignored them and now she's gone."

Overlooking the random quotes at the beginning of each chapter that have me questioning my own 13 year old self's reasoning skills. Of course, this is the same 13 year old self who would have stepped in front of a bus and let it run over her 6 times in a row if it meant she could meet OMG he's soooooooooooo FINE, Kiefer Sutherland.

All that matters is that it's a story and it's done.

Not long after I find it (so long ago now) I start writing again. Just for me. Silly things that I don't think about publishing, showing anyone. Just because I can and I want to. Journal upon journal filled with moments.

Then to the blog and the audience, the markets and the book that I think will surely kill me. And I'm wrapped up in everything but the writing.

Until I think of those 93 pages of perfect writing in pen. I wonder how many pages I had to tear out to get it just right. I imagine the look of it was much more urgent than the content.

Which really might not be a bad thing. Back then, I never considered a word. I just went with the story.

I still do this sometimes. Block out the future, the markets, the audience...success and am gracious enough to listen fully to what's flowing through me.

But not nearly enough. And I promise myself to do it more often.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Getting Started: A Three Step Plan

I'm working at home today, so it was the perfect exercise in getting started.

Normally, I work outside of the home as a team leader of a 10 person sales team. There's no question on how I start: turn on computer, get started.

There's always something to do. Always emails waiting, always customers to contact.

So I transfer the techniques I use at the Real Life Job into my Writing Job.

Last thing first: start with the end.

Huh? Yep, the end.

Last night I cleaned off my desk and got it ready for my morning. No dishes left hanging around, no extra paper, no jewellery, no mail... just a clean desk.

So now I don't have the excuse of "I need to clean up first". Because I've cleaned up last.

Then I check email. I look for immediate responses required. Immediate action items.

Then I review my email and marry it to my To Do list.

And finally, I get started.

What I find happens with many writing mothers is that they don't treat this like a real job. Don't get me wrong, you don't HAVE to treat it like a real job if you don't want to. No one here is going to say that there's one way to do things. But if you want this to be your job, then you need to treat it like one.

So here's my three-step guide to determining your best way to start:

  1. Determine what your barriers are to getting started. (Clutter, distractions, noise...)
  2. Remove those barriers. (Sometimes this means that you don't get started until the distractions kids take a nap!)
  3. Plan to start in a logical way and begin definitively. Open up a word doc and start typing. Write a blog post. Write about your dream last night. Write a to do list. It's all about But in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. (Imagine how you feel if the muse shows up and you aren't at the keyboard, while the trick is to be at the keyboard before she shows up!)

Now, it takes discipline... sometimes more than we have. I used to believe I couldn't write without the TV on for "background noise". But in reality, I was just unwilling to try, unwilling to MISS something interesting. But since I began to turn the TV off, I have gotten a HECK of a lot more writing done!

How to Choose a Digital Camera, Some Considerations

I have the Canon S3, and I do like it. It looks like a pro's camera, but it's actually a point-and-shoot with a 12x zoom and some manual controls. (It also has a kickin' video mode. Bye-bye bulky Sony camcorder!)

But if I was buying a camera just for personal use, I think the A570IS is the one I would get. It gets such great reviews, has manual controls and image stabilization, and it is small enough to put in a purse. (My S3 isn't.) It's also SO inexpensive, because Canon keeps coming out with new models.

I did some online research before buying my camera, and decided on a few things that were important to me. Might not be the same for everyone, but here's my list, in no particular order:

Image quality - This isn't only about megapixels, from what I understand. Although you do need more than the bare minimum if you're going to offer them for print, higher resolution alone does not make for the best image quality. (It has something to do with the size of the image sensor, but I'm no photography expert and can't explain it!) I looked at review sites and example pictures to make a decision.

Price - Obviously. But the higher priced cameras are not always the ones with the best reviews. If you have $500 or so to spend, the Nikon D40 is the one to choose, according to practically everyone. This is an entry-level pro’s camera.

Manual controls - I prefer a point and shoot with the option of manual controls. You know, in case I learn how to use them someday!

Size and weight - Do you want it to fit into your purse? Don't get the S3, S5 or comparable point-and-shoots if you do. (But that's why the A570IS seems good...very small, but lots of features.) And if you’re looking for a pocket camera, you definitely don’t want a digital SLR like a Nikon D40.

Battery type - I never even thought of this until I started researching it, but if you get a proprietary rechargeable battery, you are stuck with it when you're hiking through the Grand Canyon and your battery dies. For this reason, I bought a camera that just uses AA batteries. You can still get the rechargeable kind, but if you do need to buy replacements, any convenience store carries them.

Viewfinder thingy - These days, it seems like most people frame their shots using the LCD screen on their digital cameras, but having the option of doing it the old fashioned way by holding the viewfinder up to your eye can be helpful in certain situations. Some cameras don't have viewfinders anymore, but on a really bright day, it can be hard to see the screen of the LCD. Just something to consider. Could be important.

Here are some resources I used in searching for a digital camera:

Digital Camera Resource (My favorite, because it explains the technical information very well for the layperson. Also, the reviewer is frank about any of the cameras' failings in comparison with similar models.)
DP Review
Digital Camera Review

When I finally had a few models I was interested in, I checked out the Amazon reviews for those particular models.

And I just checked out photographer Ken Rockwell's site on the recommendation of another freelance writer. He has a "Recommended Cameras" page, but I got completely distracted by his photos of his cute kid. :) Wow, I wish I could take pictures like that! (My daughter is cuter, of course. :D But her mommy’s not quite so good with the camera.)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

How do I get started?

Heck if I know. My process is an eclectic mixture of Googling, wondering whether I should throw in a load of laundry, and letting the dog out. I think I've come to the place where I accept that this is what it takes for me to really get going. I do have a couple of tools that help me maintain focus in the midst of all that procrastination.

1. Open a Word doc, title it, and save it to the appropriate folder.
The second two actions are vitally important, and I've learned this the (really very) hard way. Nothing is worse than unloading some brilliance onto a blank Word doc and then having your laptop battery die or software sieze up, causing you to lose all that work. Even though my computer gives me recovered documents when I reboot, some changes or additions can be lost forever. (And whenever I do lose something, I'm absolutely convinced that it was my best work EVER. Funny how that happens.)

2. Collect everything to this document.
I transcribe my interviews, paste urls and snippets of research, make outlines, and write various versions of ledes and transitions in this document. By the time it's all said and done it's a mess, but everything is there. And this document will never be seen by anyone else... unless I accidentally send it to the client. Yikes. But to keep that from happening, I title it something like, "Name of Assignment Notes."

3. Open a new Word doc, and start writing gibberish. Hopefully it isn't all jibberish, but it is basically free-writing at this point. It looks something like this:

When Mary Arthur first opened her lizard-training business in [date tk],
she had no idea it would be so popular among the [word for people out of
high-school but not yet 30] set.

Later I'll look up the date she opened her business in my notes and decide what to call her customer-base. But at this point, it's just about the getting the words to flow. Usually this freewriting produces both the worst and the best writing I've ever done.

4. You may have noticed that I didn't title and save this new Word doc. That's because I ALWAYS forget. So do as I say and not as I do: Give it a title like "Name of Assignment Freewrite" and save it.

5. Put it all together in a new titled doc with my byline, print it out, read it out loud, cringe, edit, read it again, cringe less, let it sit, read it again, tweak, and send it out. If I'm on deadline (which is always), I don't have time to let it sit, and when I finally see it in print, I think of a thousand other ways I could have written it better.

A great sentence from an article by Chip Scanlan of helps me out of this writer's remorse, and helps me write faster: "Fight perfectionism by telling yourself that what I wrote today is what I was capable of at this moment."

So there you have my convoluted process for getting started. For this post, I did NONE of the above. I just opened up the little blog-posty box and started typing. That's another very good way to do it.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Theme: How do you start?

We're all busy, we are all pulled in different directions by our family, our work, our writing... I don't know about you, but I find it very hard to get started when I sit down to write.

What's your trick to starting?

This week, I wanted to introduce you to someone.

Suzanne Lieurance is The Working Writer's Coach and she sends out a Morning Nudge each week. She is a former classroom teacher, now a fulltime children’s author, freelance writer, and The Working Writer’s Coach. She teaches children’s writing for the Institute of Children’s Literature based in West Redding, Connecticut, and is the founder and director of the National Writing for Children Center. Lieurance is the author of 20 published books and has written articles for a variety of magazines, newsletters, and ezines like Family-Fun, Kansas City Weddings, Instructor Magazine, New Moon for Girls, Children’s Writer, and many others. She hosts a talk show about children’s books, called Book Bites for Kids, every weekday afternoon on

Her March 19th Nudge really struck home with me and she's given me permission to post that Nudge below:

Are You Afraid to Be Happy?
Wanna know why so many people don't set goals for themselves or write down what it is they want out of life?

It's because they're AFRAID they might actually attain those goals and get what they want.And something so wonderful and new for many people is very, very scary - even though they SAY they want this success.

But don't let fear keep you from claiming what you want.

When you get it, if it turns out NOT to be what you hoped it would be, you aren't stuck with it forever.

You can decide you want something else, and then go after that.

Right now, become fearless. Claim what you THINK you want.

Then go get it.

Keep doing this until you finally get what you truly desire. You'll learn a lot along the way, so your time and efforts won't be wasted.

Try it!

I'd suggest that you head over to Suzanne's web site and get nudged! It is a great way to get started!!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Writing by the Numbers

The results on my college entrance exams made it perfectly clear -- I am not a math-oriented person. The number was OK, but out of all the categories, I scored lowest in math.

I wasn't worried. I planned on being a journalist, and I was sure math wouldn't be involved.

Not long after I began taking journalism courses, I realized how wrong I was. At times, I felt like everything I was doing involved math. I would have to write an 8-inch story, or lay out a front page leaving a 3x4 hole for a photo. I needed to scan in an original photo and figure out the percentage I needed to convert it in order to have it fit the opening. This was before desktop publishing was widely used, and I learned to do layout using blue-lined paper and lots of hot wax.

Although my journalism degree required it, I didn't plan on doing a lot of layout in my career. I was a writer. I wanted to write stories.

I landed my first journalism job before I graduated with my journalism degree. I was working part-time at a community newspaper, and my number one responsibility was covering the county government. I attended the first meeting, and I took notes as the board members discussed budgets, millage (tax) proposals and contracts. Almost everything on the agenda involved numbers, which meant I would be doing math.

As the journalist, it was my responsibility to take all of those numbers and explain them in a way that made sense to my readers. If the county board approves a millage increase of .25 mills, how much should the average taxpayer expect to pay? The board members didn't always provide the answer. If the sheriff gets a 10 percent raise, and the sheriff's department budget isn't increased, how many hours of deputy patrols will be lost?

It was math. Lots and lots of math.

I'm not the only writer who found out math was an integral part of writing for a living. I distinctly remember when my good friend Shelley Haggert began working as the editor of Windsor Parent magazine. It was layout day, and she was shocked to learn layout involved math. She'd been tricked! Who knew math was involved in writing, she wailed.

Even for writers who are not involved in layout or journalism, math is still an integral part of the writing career. You have to invoice clients and write-off expenses and figure out how much you need to sell in order to pay your monthly bills.

Just this week, a number of members of The Writing Mother were admitting how they hate math. But you heard it hear first -- math is entwined in writing more than most English majors are willing to admit. Otherwise that ivory tower room where you spend your days writing won't have any heat and lights.

Math, I've learned, is much easier to accept when it involves adding up the invoices due to you.

Monday, March 17, 2008

What Makes Me Go Grrr..."Writers needed to make a few bucks"

I am part of some Yahoo groups that specialize in business and writing. Today, someone posted on one of the Yahoo groups that I am on, that she needed some writers who were looking to make a few bucks because her budget is real tight. The sad thing is I know some writers will answer that email.

Now, I will admit. I was like that when I began in the writing field, but that is because I didn't know any better, until I met some awesome writers who offered advice when I asked for some.

Writers are people too. They have bills to pay and things to purchase. We have dreams and goals. We want to run a business. By accepting a "few bucks" to write, it may become tougher for writers to make a living.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

200th Post!!

Congrats Kai, you posted the 200th Post at Mama Needs A Book Contact!!

Woot, woot!!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Contracts and concepts

I thought I'd do a run by blogging today with some news, and some thoughts ;)
I've been offered several contracts this last month, and I've had a sharp learning curve working out how to politely request revisions on them.
But - I've sold one novel - am in the process of selling the second (which is the first of a set), plus I've got several stories under final cut in anthologies. So Mama has a book contract, and I'm hoping that everyone else is having as much 'luck' as me.

And sometimes, I think that it is luck. Talent isn't enough any more - and I don't think it has been for a long time, but I'm another slice of proof, a sliver towards the side of the coin that says 'persistence, patience, luck' are three tools a writer needs. Talent will carry you, of course, but no amount of raw talent counts for anything if you're not committed to the long haul.

I'm wondering about a couple of things at the moment - like, how to get my stories into the hands of as many people as possible - or at least interesting as many people as I can in them, without bludgeoning them to death with ebooks. So I'm offering each and every first chapter of every book that I'm writing on an auto responder system.
I'm just wondering whether anyone has any ideas or thoughts on that, and any other ideas that I can use to promote my books. I'm already twittering, blogging, mailing out to interested parties. My books have thier own websites - I've got a facebook page for each of my pen names, myspace... It all amounts to a dizzying array of promotional opportunities, that I'm fine tuning. I just want to make sure I'm covering the most that I can, y'know? So fire your suggestions my way ;)

Have a great weekend everyone - and remember 'talent,patience, persistence, luck' ;)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Madness...they call it madness

There are a lot of things that make me steaming mad. For example, my phone died on Friday. Its JUST come back up about 20 minutes ago. That makes me steaming mad - cause it interfered with working from home. This is my house phone, so my internet was also gone - other than a very basic 'web and walk' system we bought on Tuesday. I'm so happy to be back online - and this is my FIRST post. Haven't even gotten round to downloading emails yet ;)

And that actually leads me quite neatly into what makes me steaming mad as a writer.
I work from home. I've got my laptop, and two desktops, which means one is for writing (my beloved laptop), one is for artwork - and the final one is for uploading websites.
BUT - because ALL people see me doing is browsing websites, uploading stuff, or playing with pretty graphics, clearly, I don't DO anything.
Its not - really - a 'writing' issue though, is it? Or you'd think.
The majority of home workers that *I* know are not writers. And we all hit the same issue, but with writers, most of the time, we're not even producing something 'solid'. I mean, I know people that sew products - I know people that create diaper cakes - I even know people that make bespoke calligraphy posters - but most writers, short of thier clips, have nothing to show for it. A novel isn't created in a week - overnight - six in a day - ten in a month.
I can understand why people believe that, but it really - REALLY annoys me that some people just don't take the time to ask or understand.
I could get into a huge conversation about professionalism as a writer - I could talk about how we need to respect ourselves and respect our work before others will - but instead, I will say this.
If our families don't understand - don't support - criticise and destroy our confidence, then we need to either make them or ask them to butt out. I've had to do that with a couple of people that just 'don't get it' and it hurts not to be able to talk to people about the things I love, but its harder still to fight against the criticism.
That's what makes me burning mad. That though I'm creating something beautiful, that some people choose not to respect me. I totally get that I have to earn respect, but 'respect' should not equal 'best seller'.
So respect yourself as a writer - get mad, get even by writing your best - but never let them drag you down.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wanna know what makes me steamin' mad?

What makes my blood boil about writing and/or the writing industry?

Hmm. It just depends on the day. Today it's...

Your ego is blocking my light, dude.

Ego is one thing that kind of gets on my nerves. Okay, it would really make me angry, except I've learned a little secret about egotistical writers, editors, or people in any field who believe they are entitled to "elite" status: They're wrong.

Anyone who thinks they have a right to look down on a plumber because he doesn't know a serial comma from a semicolon just needs to experience a burst pipe or ooh, even better, a backed up sewer. Only the densest, most unenlightenistest among us wouldn't develop a little bit of appreciation for that plumber's skill when we're knee deep in

...I don't think I have to actually say it. This is a family show. ;-)

Oh, don't get me wrong - brilliant puncuation is absolutely scrumpdillyicious, especially when it takes a complex sentence and makes it read as smooth as melted butter. But gosh, can we tone down the criticism folks? (Like, I just know someone out there is saying: "Melted butter? Is she serious? Cliche! Cliche alert! Oh. My. God.")

And while we're on the subject, what's all the huffiness over cliches? Some of my best friends are cliches. Including a few elitist writers and editors. (Oh, but not you. I didn't mean you.)

What makes you mad?

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Theme - Things That Make You Go GRRRR!

Yes, we all have them. Those THINGS that drive us batty about writing and writers and publishing and editors and ... well, just about anything.

I had a major one this week: Writers who don't respect the copyright of other writers.

So - As a writer, what chaps yer butt? What pops yer bubble? What drives you absolutely bonkers?

Friday, March 7, 2008

The writing diet

Heather asked us this week about our favorite type of writing, after Carolyn asked what we'd write even if we weren't paid.
I'm going to approach thing slightly differently, because I would (and DO) write whatever takes me because its food for my soul. I can't NOT write. It hurts my head if I don't.
But my writing 'diet' has differences to other people.

I write full time for my university course. I am in Uni for 10 hours a week, and all ten hours plus the eight hours per class of private study that I do is my major commitment. On top of that I do a couple of hours, per book, every two days, and I have five books on the go. In that hour, I add between 500 and 15000 words - depending on how complicated the scene that I'm writing is and how involved I get.
I also blog - five blogs, five posts per week, per blog, plus I update my personal blog irregularly.

I like my writing diet - I might not always get three 'meals a day' but I love the writing - and reading I do in association with the work that I'm up to that specific day. And its a varied diet - as varied as the things I've been working on - one day I'm writing 20 articles on blogging - the next I'm world building - creating worlds and weaving personalities.
To answer the question though...
My favorite type of writing is the one that lets me put the right words on a page. Whether that's poetry, prose, copywriting or programming. And don't get me wrong - being paid for it is NICE. I like being able to hand money to my partner and contribute to the house, but affecting people, and sharing the things that I'm trying to help people understand is more important - giving back what I've had support in learning is priceless.
On the subject of that though, I now have a contract - my first novel in my (sort of) pen name (Kai Viola ) is coming out in 2009. I'll explain why its a 'sort of pen name' and more about it later next week, and can share the blurb and finalised descriptions 'etc' if anyone is interested.

The breath of the divine...

I joke that my muse carries an Uzi.

It used to be, that I would get a tight feeling at the top of my spine (which has since turned into chronic back pain--why is everything about pain with me lately?) when I was really inspired. I imagined that it was a lovely mid-life lady with flowing, soft, blond hair that fell in ringlets, wearing a classic Grecian robe--you know the kind, with the crissy-crossy gold straps. She was lovely, beneficent, a being of light. But over that peaceful interior, she wore a bandoleer of ammunition and carried an Uzi. Suffice it to say, she is both a lady who knows what she wants and knows how to induce me to do it.

Then, one day after a six month writing jag, she stopped coming to work, abandoned her husband and sons, ran off to Tahiti and married one of my main characters. She still blames me over-working her for the failure of her marriage. ME over-working HER? Schah! Now in her 40's my muse has a new family. Go figure.

She sometimes comes to visit, usually in the winter between November and February. Why she'd trade a Tahiti winter for a Virginia winter is beyond me, but that's her preferred time for a jaunt. But most of the time, she just sends me postcards. Then, I can write. That's the kind of writing I love... when I get a postcard--or even better, a visit from my muse--and everything flows out of my fingers like God himself had breathed on them.

This week, I got a postcard from my muse. I turned out what I felt was an absolutely fabulous synopsis for my new novel The Barunian Incident for this synopsis seminar I'm taking. My three pre-readers loved it. One whose experience and opinion I trust said it was very, very good.

Both critiquers from the synopsis seminar hated it.

One attacked every single plot point, though we weren't supposed to comment on the other person's story. It seems he was looking for hard SF and thought mine was a "romance in space." You could tell that he looked down on romance... which should not have been a problem since my novel isn't a romance in the sense that the goal of the protagonist is not to find love. She has another goal, she happens to find love along the way. And you know what, IT'S NOT HARD SF!!! It's not MEANT to be hard SF! No wonder he didn't like it. It's soft SF, character driven, not plot driven. So because I didn't give this idiot the STORY he wanted, he was unable to give me any feedback on whether the synopsis mechanics actually worked for MY story--not the one he wanted it to be in his head. Perhaps this means that the mechanics are perfect, but I doubt it. It's the worst kind of "critique" one that ignores what he's supposed to be doing to harp on how the piece isn't the kind of story he wants it to be.

The other didn't understand the simplest thing. Like my query (sent with the critique) said that one main character will get beheaded if he doesn't become king because of "brotherly-lust for power." Now, if you're NOT a moron, you know that "brothers" = "someone else might become king." HOW CAN YOU NOT GET THAT? She didn't get anything. Nothing. Not one single plot point. Nada. I mean, NO ONE IS THAT STUPID. She wanted explanation, reasoning, description. And anyone who knows jack shit about writing a synopsis knows that a synopsis is not the place for those things. It's for getting the main parts of the plot down in the most attractive way possible.

The sad thing is that I was also assigned to crit her synopsis. I had read it yesterday afternoon--before I read her crit of mine, mind you--and was not all that impressed. And that made me sad, because I am a big fan of her writing. She's a great writer with a brilliant future. The synop was the kind of serviceable-but-not-great synopsis that just sucks the life out of a novel. I know. I've written poor synops before and I've read good ones.

She didn't much like my crit either, because her note of thanks basically refuted everything I said, said that she'd accomplished exactly what she set out to do. IN short, I was completely wrong. Well! You're WELCOME!

Her reasoning: "Every published author's synopsis I've ever read was kind of dry." Made me just want to scream. I knew it was useless to argue with her. She got one idea in her head, "synopses HAVE to be dry and suck the life out of your novel" because she'd read bad synopses by authors who happened to get published. She's never read a great synopsis, so she thinks that was how they SHOULD be and excused herself from writing having to write something that was more than pedestrian and run-of-the-mill. Gosh, that is SO much easier! Just write a yawner full of extraneous detail and wishy-washy characterization. Wish I'd thought of that. And she hated my synop because it was short on (extraneous, IMO) detail and long on style ("a synopsis is not the place to show off your writing.")

Anyway, I still get one more crit from this seminar. And I have to decide what to do with the synopsis. Clearly, there are some plot points that don't scan from the text. I have to figure out what those are and clarify them in as few words as possible. I need to figure out how to downplay the romantic aspect and up-play the fact that this happens on a planet other than Earth and is actually SF, which it is. And I need to figure out what is good from two really not helpful critiques and using them to make my synopsis better... all while tromping down on my raging ego, which is, to say the least, bruised.

And that last is the hard part. As difficult as writing the synop itself is, figuring out what's worth keeping from a crit where the writer doesn't understand what a good synopsis is and another where the critter has an ax to grind about the story (which is not supposed to be the focus of his crit) and doesn't say anything about what makes him NOT "believe it" is really hard. You have to not only read between the lines, you have to read minds! And I have to do it without the substantial ego--the confidence I've built from ten years of success (and failure)--to protect me. I hope my ego doesn't to to Tahiti too.

This is the part of writing I hate.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

My Favorite Crack-a-lakin Writin': I now command you...

I have a 'real life' job in sales. Yes, me, I'm a salesperson. I sell stuff to people and I kind of sort of like it... most of the time. I'm also a Team Leader. I help other salespeople learn to sell and I guide them through our company's various departments and resources...

And while I do this... it feeds that little inner beastie of mine. That little controlling beastie that loves to TELL PEOPLE WHAT TO DO. (and where to go and how to get there, but that's another post for another time.)

At work there isn't much writing to do. Or rather, there wasn't until I created some writing ...

Now technically, I get paid to do my job. But my job doesn't really include writing. I could spend all day, all week, all month selling and have to do very little writing outside of communicating with customers.

But not me. Because I like to write and I like to tell people what to do. On a higher level, I like to organize my world through writing.

So I wrote the 'bible' of our department.

I wrote a training schedule.

I wrote a training guide.

I write sales letters every week.

I wrote the job description for my employees.

I wrote my own job description when they were creating the job I was promoted in to.

I write update and directives and instructions. If someone needs to know how to do something, I write the ten step guide to that task... my department has gone from almost no documentation to having everything documented.

I volunteer to proofread our company purchasing guide.

I create marketing material and pitch it to my boss.

The great thing is... all of this writing will still fit on my writer resume. It's all writing that I could go and get paid to do, but I do it at work as a 'side job'.

The benefits are many. Like the email my boss cc'd me on today where he sort of bragged that I was a "professional writer". Or the confidence I feel when I start to proofread something because I'm used to doing it. Or the ease with which I can rattle off a sales letter that my employees love to send out.

So even though they don't pay me to do it... I love it.

My Kind of Writing

I have written many articles for local newspapers and online. The best kind of writing that I truly love is when readers apply my articles to their lives. I love it when I know readers have benefited from my articles.

How do I know when readers have benefited from my articles? By feedback--written and verbal. It makes me feel like I contributing positively towards humanity.

Monday, March 3, 2008

My favorite kind of writing, and another thing I love

First let me say that I enjoy many different kinds of writing - putting my best effort into an advertorial can be as much fun as fiddling around with a limerick for kicks, and getting into "the zone" with an article or an essay is just as satisfying as making things up for a story or the first part of a novel. (Don't know what the second part of a novel is like yet, though!)

But my favorite, favorite, could-do-it-all-day-and-not-get-tired-of-it type of writing is....


Yes, I love email. And forum posts. I like LOL-ing and ROFL-ing and ;-) and :-D and giving short tidbits of advice or humorous observations, and commisseration and encouragement and everything else that can go into email or forum posts.

I think it's rather an art form... it truly is difficult to convey a certain tone through word-choice, even with emoticons.

Okay, so maybe it's not "real" writing, but I've written some of my best stuff in email and on forums. Every now and then, I'll have this fantastic mini-essay or service piece all ready to go when I realize I should save it, because it would work in an article. The only problem with that is that I don't get the instant gratification of having someone read it in the next two minutes and respond to it.

And here's another thing I love, that isn't technically writing but is part of being a writer: More and more, I love interviews! Preferably long, slightly rambling and partly off-topic interviews. The things you can learn by listening to people, and asking questions about them and what they're passionate about!

A really good interview jazzes me in a way that gets me bouncing around for the rest of the day. For example: I just interviewed two managers at a construction materials company. You would think, "oh great, we're going to talk about gravel," but no - they are committed to providing a great environment for their employees, and offer benefits like tuition reimbursement to help them advance in the company. I also found out that Western Colorado is not faring the same as the rest of the U.S. While everyone else is talking about slowdowns and rebates, they're in an oil and gas boom.

That's good to know, isn't it? That's interesting. I get off the phone and for twenty minutes I'm telling my husband all about it. He doesn't know what that has to do with anything, but I'm just excited. It has to do with something. I'm sure of it. It could probably even be the basis for an article.

Okay, so I've just revealed two things about myself: I like having conversations, whether by text or by phone, and I get excited over learning useless information. Except that it's not useless. To someone, a reader, it would be important. Maybe someone who works in construction and needs a job. I don't know. But there you go. The kind of writing I love is anything that's going to be helpful to someone, and provides me with almost instant feedback.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Theme - Writing You Love To Write!

This week's theme comes from the indominable Carolyn!

"What kind of writing do you love the most, that you would do if no one paid you to do it?”

Feel free to respond in the comments or post a link to your own blog!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

My barriers and American Idol

I finally figured it out. Yay! Heather gave us this theme assignment – “What barriers eclipse your writing?” - and boy was I struggling with the answer. I mean, after all, if I knew that, I wouldn’t have them, right?

Well, I was watching American Idol this week, and a few of the girls had chosen songs based on what they thought judges or fans might say... in other words, (according to Ryan and the judges) they were overthinking their selections.

I could immediately relate to that. Ramiele Malubay bypassed slower songs she liked because she thought people would start calling her Lullaby Malubay (a sophomoric taunt anyway). Paula suggested she forget about all of that and just go for the ones that she feels are right for her, that showcase her talent, etc. etc. etc. My interpretation: go with your gut. Or something. Do what tastes right. Whatever. Be you.

She wasn't the only one with that issue. Other women were told the same thing. The country girl who likes fishing and horseback riding vowed that after tonight, she would show off her country skills.

The nurse who is a bookworm did a song that didn't fit with her bluesy style. Randy told her to stick with those, because they work for her. I have to agree.

It's so easy when you're playing armchair quarterback on American Idol to see this. It's quite another matter when you're the writer, sitting in front of your article, wondering how to do this thing. Should I use this word, or would that make me sound stupid? Does this lead have enough zing? What about the order of the article, and are the transitions brilliant enough?

So that’s one of the barriers I think that eclipses my writing. Some people call it an internal editor. The solution is supposed to be to write without regard to all of that, because you can go back and edit later.

I’ll let you know when I figure out how to do that. ;-)